- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

NORFOLK (AP) — Two men who pleaded guilty to “tagging” buildings with spray paint have been sentenced to wear T-shirts identifying them as graffiti offenders while they perform 500 hours of community service.

Neal Stava, 20, and Charles N. Roberts, 21, likely will not be the last offenders hit with the unusual punishment. The city has ordered 10 of the shirts as part of its crackdown on graffiti.

The red shirts are emblazoned with the message: “Graffiti is not art. Graffiti is vandalism.”

Mr. Stava and Mr. Roberts were involved in a recent spate of tagging in which people leave their personal stamps on buildings, fences, trash bins and utility boxes, said Deputy City Attorney Cynthia Hall. Tags are often pseudonyms sprayed in a series of loops and swirls.

From time to time, Miss Hall said, tagging incidents surge in Norfolk. Generally, a few people are responsible for many incidents, she said.

Mr. Stava was arrested on 25 counts of applying graffiti and Mr. Roberts was charged with eight counts. Police Chief Bruce P. Marquis briefed the City Council on their arrests in a February report on crime in Norfolk.

“We want to make our case to the courts that we take this very seriously,” said Mayor Paul Fraim.

Soon after the briefing, City Manager Regina V.K. Williams told the council that a new “Tag-Out” program will enlist residents to help remove graffiti within 24 hours. A graffiti spotters program will also be created, she said in a memo to the council.

A “Paint Out” day will use volunteers to freshen up areas that are routinely tagged. The city will promote a $500 reward program for information leading to convictions in tagging cases. And a mobile graffiti unit will hit the streets to assist in the efforts, Miss Williams’ memo said.

In plea agreements Tuesday, Mr. Stava admitted to 10 misdemeanor counts of applying graffiti, and Mr. Roberts admitted to four. Spectators snickered when an attorney held up the red shirts for the benefit of Judge Ray W. Dezern Jr.

Mr. Stava’s attorney, Sherrise Powers, said afterward her client has accepted responsibility.

“He’s sorry that in his youthful age he didn’t make a better decision,” she said.

Said Mr. Roberts, “Pretty much the same goes for me.”

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